Tag Archives: detention centers

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D Schmidt

Gary D Schmidt must have lived in Ancient Greece during a former life since he has developed the concept of tragedy into an art form in the new YA book, Orbiting Jupiter. Get out the hankies, this one is a real tear jerker. The parenting gene will go into overdrive as we read about motherless Jack whose father gets his jollies by beating up his only son. Then, while accompanying his dad on a plumbing job in an upscale neighborhood, Jack meets Madeline. After that the thirteen year old walks seven miles each way in all sorts of weather to spend time with this girl who quickly inhabits his heart. Then one day she kisses him and they end up together in the biblical sense. He gets caught and is sent away for his sins, first at one facility and then to a real killer institute. Inbetween times he discovers that Maddie has become pregnant and then that he has a daughter called Jupiter, named after their favorite planet.

All this information comes out later, but in the beginning of the story we meet Jamie and his folks who have decided to welcome Jack as a foster child into their home on an organic farm. Jack, who rarely speaks and remains skittish after some ugly events back at the home, gradually opens up as he interrelates with the farm animals and responds to the true affection provided by the Hurd family.

Yet it’s a long road from damaged to healed, and not smooth sailing for any of the participants as Jack seeks a path to wholeness through the idea of reuniting with his baby daughter. There is no sugar coating to the injustices found in bureaucracy or the nastiness of middle schoolers when they discover a weakness in a fellow student. Jack has too much baggage to be readily accepted by his peers although his abilities are recognized by some caring adults (finally a positive voice about the role of teachers in the life of their students).

This story is told through the voice of twelve year old James Hurd who grows to care for his “roommate” and continually demonstrates that he has Jack’s back, in the face of dangerous or threatening situations. Even though this story evolves around kids, don’t expect smooth sailing or happy endings.

Now don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed this book, but the plot reads more like my favorite soap opera where evil awaits around every corner with little pockets of hope for positive outcomes in impossible situations. Contrived might be a good word to describe this heart breaker. Also, Orbiting Jupiter is almost too short with some events occurring so rapidly that the reader can’t get a grip on what’s happening until it’s all over, in spite of anticipating this very outcome.

Although written for a YA audience, Orbiting Jupiter will appeal to the younger crowd, especially when they see it is less than two hundred pages. Well written, but easy to read, Schmidt doesn’t dumb down his dialogue and tackles some issues rarely talked about but of concern to young teens. Four stars.

Thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

What lurks beneath the facade we present to the world? What secrets do we keep hidden, even from ourselves? How many lies are we willing to live in order to satisfy the realization of our innermost fantasies? The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma is a fascinating character study of a group of adolescent girls who struggle with their true identities, the ones that fill their souls.

The book banters back and forth between premiere ballerina, Violet, set to attend Julliard in September, and Amber, sentenced to Aurora Hills Secure Juvenile Detention Center for a heinous crime she was accused of committing at the age of thirteen (an act so horrendous that even her own mother refuses to visit). One common denominator between these two teens is Orianna – former best friend to Vee and cellmate to Amber. Ori is a girl who is easy to love, one who brings light even to the squalid prison conditions of the institution. The inmates who struggle daily with their own feelings of guilt fail to see exactly how this harbinger of kindly gestures could have been dubbed “The Bloody Ballerina”.

Yet, that’s the story which is slowly revealed through the musings of our two storytellers – exactly what happened that day behind the dance studio where the pubescent girls gathered for a “bit of air” in the smoking tunnel. Even more fascinating is the narrative of life behind bars for young female inmates at the Upstate New York detention center. Throw in a touch of supernatural déjà Vous and you’ve got a mesmerizing little book.

While, at times, the plot allusions get confusing, it is readily evident which are the guilty parties. The author’s style keeps the reader riveted wanting to know how the events all tie in together with a conclusion that is in some ways predictable and in others totally shocking. Each character’s motivation, however, is not kept a secret. We might not approve of their actions, but we understand the circumstances that led to their dastardly deeds (and there are several). It’s too bad I can’t go into further details, as there are numerous highlights I am dying to discuss.

Don’t be put off by the Ballet theme, this is a book for both teens and adults, even those who don’t know a cartwheel from a plié. I especially liked the literary references (Amber’s life skills assignment was to wheel the library cart around, just in case anyone wanted a book to read or a message to pass). While Suma includes numerous citable quotes in her narrative, I was especially tickled with Ambers’s assessment that “reading a new book before anyone else got to it was like getting the first hot lunch”. Four stars for a fascinating psychological study.

A special thank you to Netgalley and Algonquin Books for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.